“The party has absolute control over the media, and this principle is unshakable,” the memo said. “External hostile forces are involved in the development of the situation” at Southern Weekly.
The memo added that every “work unit” must immediately “demand that its department’s editors, reporters and staff discontinue voicing support for Southern Weekly online.”
The protests began last week when the reform-minded paper’s editors and reporters complained that a front-page New Year’s Day message to readers — voicing the “dream” that China would soon have constitutional rule — was substantially rewritten and watered down into an obsequious tribute to the Communist Party. The editors said the text was rewritten without their knowledge by the party’s Guangdong propaganda chief, Tuo Zhen, who has become the principal target of the demonstrators’ ire.
What began as a largely online protest by Southern Weekly journalists quickly gathered steam around the country, drawing support from noted actors, writers, business leaders and others who have used their weibo accounts — the Chinese version of Twitter — to decry heavy-handed government censorship of Chinese media and demand more freedom of expression. The rare show of discontent has posed a crucial test for China’s new leadership team, led by party Secretary General Xi Jinping.
Hundreds of anti-censorship protesters donned masks, chanted slogans and left flowers at the newspaper’s headquarters in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, on Monday, and smaller crowds continued the protest Tuesday. But this time they were met by “new leftists,” who carried pictures of the late party leader Mao Zedong and voiced support for government control. The groups clashed verbally during the demonstration.
Police have largely stayed on the sidelines and let the protests continue — a rarity in China, where public demonstrations are normally not allowed. But Tuesday, police officers were photographed installing security cameras around the paper’s headquarters, presumably to film the protesters.
The memo from the Central Propaganda Department also ordered all media and Web sites in China to “prominently republish” a hard-line editorial that appeared Tuesday in the Global Times, a nationalist tabloid owned by the party’s main mouthpiece, the People’s Daily.
The editorial blamed “activists,” including blind, self-taught lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who is in the United States, for stirring up the censorship issue. “Some activists outside the media industry in China have been inciting some media to engage in confrontation,” it said. “Those external activists are expecting direct confrontation between Chinese media and the current system.”